The Martian Isn’t All Science Fiction

On Sunday, September 27, millions of people stood outside watching the “Blood Moon” appear in the night sky. The following day, NASA revealed that it had found the existence of water on Mars.

If there is anything that has grown increasingly fascinating for humans over time, it’s space. We as a culture have become so obsessed with it that we spend years and millions of dollars working to build a giant, sophisticated dart to fly into the vast unknown. The Martian, Ridley Scott’s new film adapted from Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, is very cognizant of this fact.

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

When NASA botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is left behind by his crew and deserted on Mars, it is not just Mark’s problem—it's NASA’s. The organization doesn't want the public discovering it accidentally stranded a crew member on another planet. At that point, the mission isn’t just to get Mark home, but to save themselves from intense public scrutiny.

With this, The Martian takes a new leap in the science-fiction genre, primarily because most of it isn’t completely unrealistic. This is not a movie filled with robots, 5th dimensions and complicated, made-up equations. Rather, there are feasible problems and solutions. Once Watney finds out he has been stranded on an entire planet alone, he takes the logical and professional approach – he looks at a picture of his family, puts it away, looks around and declares, “I’m not going to die here."

The movie then morphs into a fast-paced adventure, in which its obstacles require logic and immediate problem solving. Obstacles are presented, and the characters make quick decisions. A helmet breaks? Duct tape. Need to fertilize Martian soil? Well, you can make your own conclusion. Watley is not a dramatic hero. He is a solider surviving in the wilderness.

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

Photo courtesy of Tumblr

While acclaimed films such as Gravity and Interstellar take a more melodramatic approach to sci-fi storytelling, The Martian takes pains to remove the superfluity. Is Watney scared? Of course he is. We already know that, and we don't need that explicitly told to us.

Throughout the movie, Damon’s character exudes quiet confidence. He gets through each step of the process, and if something doesn’t work, he begins again and tries something new. In between, he waits patiently as it takes days, possibly weeks, for Earth to receive a few typed sentences.

When the members of the crew decide to abandon their next mission in order to rescue Watney, they take a moment to analyze the situation. From that moment on, there are no complaints or doubts—everything is strictly business.

The Martian, in stark contrast to other sci-fi films, teaches its audience to look at the sky and remain curious. The movie presents terrific visuals, but does not rely on them. There is no malfunctioning robot operating system like in 2001: A Space Odyssey; there is no giant black hole like in Interstellar. Mark Watney does not tell us to fear space, he tells us to embrace it.

As Watney walks around and generates crops on Mars, he knows he is the first person to do so. By the end, we know Watney has been saved and returned to Earth, but that was no miracle. That was science.